Just over a decade ago my Dad died of lung cancer, aged 73. Although as a teenager I crossed swords with him, wound him up, was occasionally incomprehensible and disappointing to this hard manual working, rugby league loving poor boy from Drogheda, he was – is – a hero to me.
Born into a poor, large family in Ireland, he left school and started work in a cement factory at 13 – a year before he could legally but the practice in Ireland at the time was not to register kids until they were of working age, then lie about the birth date so they could work to support the family as early as possible. Only when his own mother was dying did he learn that he was a year younger than he thought, and had a different birthday. “Just like the Queen” he used to joke. When I was in my teens he supported my choice to go to college when relatives and friends were telling him to get me out to work ASAP.
Having met my Mum when she was visiting both their family’s Irish home town, he moved to Salford in his late twenties and started a lifetime of backbreaking – almost literally after an industrial accident – work on what was then The Port of Manchester and the Ship Canal (now home to Media City) as a fitter on big transAtlantic container boats. It was hard work, long hours to bring home the overtime, scrabbling around hot oily stinking ships’ engine rooms. He hardly ever complained. There was Friday night watching his beloved Salford Reds play rugby at the ground opposite our house to look forward to, and a beer with his mates.
He was a heavy smoker, liked a drink and a party and an Irish sing song. He could play almost any instrument by ear and gave me my first guitar. As kids, and encouraged by my vehemently anti-smoking Mum, we would buy him pipes for his birthday to try and get him to cut down. They would mysteriously “break” in his overalls pocket.
When he retired he gave up the cigs, spent time with his grandchildren, helped nurse my mum to recovery from cancer, learned to cook, watched the Reds, walked his dog. A legacy of his working conditions, he developed asbestosis on his lungs, which in time developed into an inoperable lung cancer. It killed him before he could see half his 18 grandchildren even be born.
This Father’s Day I will be donating in his memory to The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation (www.roycastle.org) and be tweeting a selfie with one of my favourite photographs of him using the #FathersDayHeroes hashtag. I know many people, including celebrities and top-followed Tweeters, will have similarly lost hero dads to this disease. And many others will just want to celebrate having their dad still with them or having survived cancer. I hope they will join me in doing the same selfie, with pic or, if lucky, with their large-as-life “hero” dad, and in making a donation to the Foundation and encouraging others to do the same. To help even more, and give the campaign greater impact and reach, I hope they will join me in signing up to support a Thunderclap (it takes literally two minutes) so we can share a collective message of support for the Foundation via Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr on the eve of Father’s Day in the name of #FathersDayHeroes. For this to happen, we need to recruit 100 supporters on Thunderclap to back this important charity and its dedicated fight against lung cancer in men and woman or all ages.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men after prostate cancer, with around 23,800 new cases diagnosed in the UK in 2011. There are around 43,000 cases (men and women) diagnosed every year and it remains the UK’s biggest cancer killer.
Early diagnosis is a really key message for the Foundation. Public Health England ran a Be Clear On Cancer campaign (2012 / 2013) urging people with a three-week-old cough to visit their GP. It led to around 700 extra patients (10% rise) being diagnosed with lung cancer – many at an early stage – and crucially resulted in around 300 more patients getting surgery, which gives them the best chance of prolonged survival.
So let’s celebrate our #FathersDayHeroes in a meaningful way, the ones we have or have lost, and help more to survive.